Sheryl Mai: Whangārei says no to Three Waters Reform 'change of choice'

Sheryl Mai: Whangārei says no to Three Waters Reform 'change of choice'

Change is inevitable, but these days it feels as though change is happening faster and more frequently than ever.

Last week, a shareholder vote was held to determine the future of Marsden Point oil refinery. The outcome of that vote was a decision to transition the refinery into a fuel import terminal, so by the end of 2022 there will be no more refining of oil in New Zealand.

The decision was made by the shareholders, and my heart goes out to the employees who are impacted by this decision. I can only hope the positive employment market in Northland gives them hope for future employment, and that the fuel import terminal will complement future growth in the Marsden area.

This kind of change will have a huge impact on our district, and there is no doubt (given the current global situation) there is more to come.

Many of you will have read or heard about the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report. There is no longer any question that action on climate change is needed immediately.

Our council has been developing strategies to help educate our communities around mitigation and adaptation to the effects of our changing climate. We’re working with local authorities across the Northland region to ensure a co-ordinated approach, under a joint strategy known as Climate Adaptation Te Taitokerau (CATT).

You’ll hear more about CATT this year, as we fast-track the mahi and begin to roll it out across our region.

There are some changes happening that our council doesn’t agree with however, and one of these is the proposed Three Waters Reform. The Government is proposing that management of the three waters is transferred out of local government hands and into new entities.

Sheryl Mai: Whangārei says no to Three Waters Reform 'change of choice'

The new Whangārei water treatment plant in Whau Valley, Whangārei. Photo / NZME

The northernmost would cover Auckland, Whangārei, Kaipara and the Far North. We don’t want to see control revert to an unelected board of directors almost certainly based in Auckland, this is something our council feels very strongly about.

Whangārei District Council has opted out of central government’s Three Waters Reform.

Some councils across New Zealand, including ours in the distant past, have had major problems with freshwater supply and have suffered beach and harbour closures because of sewage spills from ageing infrastructure.

Whangārei has addressed many of these issues in recent years and our three waters systems are now among the best in the country. Local ratepayers paid for these assets (worth $700 million to $1.2 billion) and we feel they should continue to own and control them.

There is good sense, however, in having a new water regulator to set and enforce standards that our council already meets. Maybe this should be established first and the situation reassessed future?

In time, combining systems and resources to generate economies of scale may deliver benefits for some councils. We don’t believe Whangārei is one of those councils. Our local system performs outstandingly, has solid local governance, investment and management, and we don’t want it combined into a system that will see it become neglected, fail to deliver, and cost ratepayers more.

Some change is forced upon us, such as with Covid-19 and climate adaptation, and some change is a choice. The Three Waters Reform is a change of choice – and we have chosen to say no.

• Sheryl Mai is mayor of Whangārei.

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